As the native land as one of America’s civil rights architects, Greenwood County has an unbreakable connection with Benjamin E. Mays.

From his humble beginnings as the son of ex-slaves, Mays was only 4 years old when the Phoenix riots of 1898 broke out — giving him a glimpse of the racial violence that would be part of his environment for decades to come.

In July, Mayor Brandon Smith suggested Greenwood County School District 50 trustees consider renaming one of its schools after the man who was a confidante to three presidents, oversaw the desegregation of Atlanta’s public education system and mentored some of the nation’s greatest 20th century thinkers, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“In the final chapter of his life, Dr. Mays had something in common with all of you: he ran for and won a seat on his local board of education,” Smith said at a July 15 board meeting. “Dr. Mays was, at his core, an educator. And what better way for us in Greenwood to recognize the legacy of one of our native sons than by naming a school after him.”

During the board’s retreat on Saturday, GLEAMNS Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historic Site director Christopher Thomas gave Smith’s proposal a strong endorsement.

“Dr. Mays’ life is certainly worth knowing by anybody. His life was extraordinary and fantastic,” Thomas said. “I know it’s been out there for all of you to think about, and I think it would be a wonderful thing.”

Currently, just one school in South Carolina bears the name of the man who served as the first dean of Howard University’s School of Religion from 1934 through 1940 and president of Morehouse College from 1940 through 1967.

The Benjamin E. Mays Consolidated School in Pacolet was in operation from 1953 until 1970, when the district consolidated. In 1999, officials renamed it “Original Benjamin E. Mays School” to honor his legacy.

After Thomas’ 40-minute presentation outlining Mays’ extraordinary life and career, trustee Clay Sprouse suggested district educators be exposed to it during a professional development day. He and other board members also said they’d like to find ways for District 50 schools more closely work with the historic site.

Outside of Anne Marie Glawe, a Gifted And Talented Students teacher at Springfield Elementary, Thomas said few within the district take advantage of the site as an educational resource.

Glawe makes regular trips to the replica one-room schoolhouse that reflects the one Mays attended with her students.

“We do not get any regular visits from many District 50 students, and I hope that changes. I think Dr. Benjamin Mays’ life is worth understanding for black and white students alike,” Thomas said. “Dr. Mays is Greenwood County’s gift to the world.”

Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.